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Perspective
Livestream from the Belton Church of Christ in Texas | Photo by Chris Woodrow

After COVID-19, new opportunities for fellowship

Let’s examine ourselves and look to Jesus as a model.

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What a fellowship, what a joy divine,

Leaning on the everlasting arms;

What a blessedness, what a peace is mine,

Leaning on the everlasting arms.

I’ve loved this song all of my life, but in the last few years, I’ve had to ask: How much time have I really spent in fellowship with my brothers and sisters, especially amid COVID-19 and limited live worship experiences?

Although almost all congregations have returned to in-person worship, mine remains remote. I’ve been forced to realize that fellowship is much more than singing songs, shaking hands and sharing meals in the church fellowship hall.


Related: After leading 20 tours since 1985, Jerry Rushford retires from Hymns and Heritage


According to historians, Elisha A. Hoffman (1839-1929) wrote the stanzas of “What a Fellowship,” and Anthony J. Showalter (1858-1924) wrote the refrain: “Leaning, Leaning …”

The words recall Deuteronomy 33:27: “The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms” (King James Version). Showalter was inspired by this Scripture after the wives of two of his former students died and were buried the same day.

In times of disappointment, grief and loss, we all need God to lean on, and we gain strength through the fellowship of our church family members.

Leaning, leaning,

Safe and secure from all alarms;

Leaning, leaning,

Leaning on the everlasting arms.

In Acts 2:42 (New International Version), we’re told, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Using this passage as our guide could strengthen us so much.

“My ability to take part in live worship over the past three years has been greatly limited. … Yet I learned that by connecting with my brothers and sisters in congregations around the world, I grew stronger without leaving home.”

My ability to take part in live worship over the past three years has been greatly limited by the COVID pandemic, weeks in a hospital and a toe amputation. Yet I learned that by connecting with my brothers and sisters in congregations around the world, I grew stronger without leaving home.

Through common teaching and familiar Scriptures, I was able to reunite and fellowship with old friends. I logged into gospel meetings and enjoyed music and sermons from many congregations. I shared in Bible study by email with friends like Jesse Jackson from Tallahassee, Fla.

O how sweet to walk in this pilgrim way,

Leaning on the everlasting arms;

O how bright the path grows from day to day,

Leaning on the everlasting arms.

Our opportunities to walk together on the pilgrim way look different at different times of our life.

Similarly, congregations each have their own culture and flavors. How often have we passed buildings with Church of Christ signs out front but kept going? Why not explore new places when on vacation and learn from each other?


Related: The soundtrack of my life


On Memorial Day, I visited my old congregation, the University Park Church of Christ in Hyattsville, Md., and reveled in the singing by so many young adults and minister Don Ballard. It was amazing to listen to so many songs and people I didn’t know.

A few weeks ago, I watched a gospel meeting on YouTube from the Newark Church of Christ in New Jersey for seven nights. It was so encouraging to hear Chris Turner lead singing and learn from preaching by brother Randall F. Tucker from the South Union Church of Christ in Houston.

Last fall I took part in a 24-hour prayer service hosted by the University Parkway Church of Christ in Baltimore where, for the second year, I met brothers and sisters from around the world.

As a chaplain for the Baltimore Police Department, I enjoy praying with officers and fellow chaplains in a variety of ways. I enjoy praying even more with brothers and sisters in the Lord.

Anthony Walker, minister for the Highway 231 South Church of Christ in Murfreesboro, Tenn., prays during “A Virtual Hour of Prayer,” attended by 169 Christians on Zoom.

If I can do all this from my house in Maryland, imagine the possibilities for those free to drive and travel.

What have I to dread, what have I to fear,

Leaning on the everlasting arms?

I have blessed peace with my Lord so near,

Leaning on the everlasting arms.

When two of the disciples encountered Jesus on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24:28, they “urged him strongly, ‘Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.’”

In fellowship at the table, they recognized him, and “their eyes were opened.” There they shared a meal, and he prayed for them. That’s fellowship.

Church members enjoy fellowship after Sunday morning worship at the Roanoke Church of Christ in eastern Alabama.

Church members enjoy fellowship after Sunday morning worship at the Roanoke Church of Christ in eastern Alabama.

Even during worship services, why not consider sitting in a different part of the sanctuary? Why  not invite different families for dinner or call old friends to get reacquainted? That’s fellowship, too.

I challenge all of us to see fellowship in a new and exciting way. Let’s examine ourselves and look to Jesus as a model for fellowship, and our lives will never be the same.

HAMIL R. HARRIS is a Christian Chronicle correspondent and a veteran journalist who spent two decades with the Washington Post. He preaches regularly for the Glenarden Church of Christ in Maryland.

Filed under: COVID-19 fellowship hymns In-person worship online worship Opinion pandemic Perspective Top Stories virtual worship What a joy divine

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